Young Evangelicals must learn proper theology on Israel – tempered with compassion for Palestinians – or we risk losing them, Rosenberg says
ALL ISRAEL NEWS Editor-in-Chief tells i24 that next Israeli prime minister should appoint an Ambassador to the Christian world to strengthen strategic alliance, focus on better educating young Christians
A troubling poll released recently shows that young Evangelical Christians in the United States are drifting from their parents' and grandparents' beliefs about Israel when it comes to their own views on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
While Evangelical Christians have been Israel’s most important strategic allies in recent years, the numbers show that Israel can no longer take such support for granted, ALL ISRAEL NEWS Editor-in-Chief Joel Rosenberg said.
Calev Ben-David, host of On the Rundown on i24, interviewed Rosenberg on Wednesday night in order to dive deeper into the numbers and to understand why younger Evangelicals are drifting from their connection to Israel.
“They’re not really being taught the Bible. They’re not really being taught where Israel fits in the biblical story, the biblical prophecies,” Rosenberg said. “And as young people start to drift theologically, their political views of just a general sense of fairness: 'Hey, Israel already has a country. Shouldn’t the Palestinians have a country?' Well, we want compassion for Palestinians, but we also need to teach Evangelical young people why Israel is important to God as well as the rest of us.”
“If young people say, 'I’m a Christian,' and then you ask them, 'Well, do you love Israel?' 'Not really,' – that is already an indicator that they don’t understand the biblical story,” Rosenberg said.
But it's a catch-22: If Evangelical leadership focuses exclusively on a strong Zionist, Israel-exclusive theology, they are going to lose young people who are swept up by a sense of “fairness,” Rosenberg said.
“One of the things I’m trying to do in my travels to the Gulf States and with Arabs here in Israel is, we need to show that you can be pro-Israel and loving and compassionate towards Palestinians and, broader, towards Arabs,” Rosenberg said.
Rosenberg spoke with Ben-David about how both Evangelical and Israeli leaders can combat this challenge. While the Christian community has most of the responsibility, Israel can also act, he said.
“We should appoint an ambassador in the next government, specifically to the Christian community,” Rosenberg recommended.
Such a person would serve as the government’s primary liaison to all Christian communities abroad and work to educating them about the history of Israel, while promoting healthy Jewish-Christian cooperation and refuting lies told against Israel and the Jewish people in the media, academia and political sphere, Rosenberg wrote in a recent article.
Here is a transcript of the interview:
CALEV BEN-DAVID: (Poll: Who do you support in the Israeli-Palestinian dispute?) Just 33.6% said Israel; 24.3% said with the Palestinians and 42.2% said with neither side. And this was a significant shift from 2018 when 69% of young Evangelicals in another survey said they sided with Israel. Only 5.6% said with the Palestinians, and 25.7% said with neither side. Well, joining me now in studio is Joel Rosenberg, the editor of ALL ISRAEL NEWS and The New York Times bestselling author. And Joel, let me ask you, is Israel to some degree, taking Evangelical support for granted?
JOEL ROSENBERG: Well, one wouldn’t think so given how much Prime Minister (Benjamin) Netanyahu and (former) Ambassador Ron Dermer have done over the years. I give them great credit. I think what you’re watching, what the survey, unfortunately, shows is a split. Netanyahu and Dermer and others have been focused on the leaders. But what we need to be focusing on more is younger leaders. And that’s what Dermer is saying. And I would just say I’ve known Ron for 20 plus years. I don’t think he’s saying, prioritize Evangelicals over the Jewish community. Not at all. What he’s saying is, we need to do more to reach out to Evangelicals, particularly young people. And I think that’s what – when you’re working with leaders, pastors, seminaries, Bible colleges and others – media – you need to start working on what are we not doing with young people that we have been doing with their parents and grandparents?
BEN-DAVID: Now, I want to look at another figure, Joel, that was interesting in the survey. It said that almost 45% of respondents, of these young Evangelical Christians, now support the establishment of a Palestinian state alongside Israel – 45% – 35.1% said they’re neutral on this while only 25.5 oppose the idea of a Palestinian state. Joel, I'm going to give you credit, because during the period of the annexation, when we discussed this, and I think I mentioned to you, are Evangelicals going to be disappointed if the U.S. doesn't or the Trump administration doesn't support annexation of the West Bank. You said, “You’re wrong, Calev, the community is much more diverse in its opinion on the Israeli-Palestinian issue than people imagine.”
ROSENBERG: Yeah, and mostly that's a good thing. I mean, you know, I'm an Israeli. I’m an Evangelical from a Jewish background on my father's side. I see overwhelming support among American Evangelicals and global Evangelicals for Israel. But I am concerned about the divide. And I think it's not primarily theological with young people. The point is they’re not really being taught the Bible. They’re not really being taught where Israel fits in the biblical story, the biblical prophecies. And as young people start to drift theologically, their political views of just a general sense of fairness, “Hey, Israel already has a country. Shouldn’t the Palestinians have a country?” Well, we want compassion for Palestinians, but we also need to teach Evangelical young people why Israel is important to God as well as the rest of us. And I would add one way we can work on that. Just as the rabbi said, the Biden administration needs an ambassador to the Jewish community specifically on anti-Semitism, the next prime minister of Israel really needs to appoint an ambassador-level emissary focused on the Christian community worldwide for the same reasons the rabbi said. You don’t want the foreign minister and every other ambassador to have this as one of the issues. This is a critical issue because if you lose the next generation of Evangelicals – our greatest, most strategic ally in the world – this is a huge problem for Israel and for the Jewish people.
BEN-DAVID: Joel, once again, the numbers back you up here, because that poll from North Carolina, when they talked to the young people, another question was this: Over 44% of the respondents said that their religious beliefs do not influence their assessment of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Although 38% did say their religious beliefs lead them to view Israel more favorably and 17.4% said their religious beliefs lead them to be more supportive of the Palestinians. So, there is that element in the Evangelical community. Maybe this leads back to the question of what maybe Israelis would be taking for granted among Evangelicals, because, again, there's a kind of cliche that because of biblical prophecies and end of days – we won’t go into the theology – but because of that sort of theological belief, that's why Evangelicals are automatically going to support Israel in some of its political conflicts. But as you say, the young people maybe are not. Those beliefs may not be filtering down to the young people who might be just more in the category of more conservative-minded young Americans.
ROSENBERG: Well, they’re actually not conservative-minded. They’re drifting more liberal and more moderate. I’m reminded of a conversation I once had with Natan Sharansky on this on the issue of anti-Semitism and where does this fit in with Christianity? And one of the conversations we had, and he was very interesting, he said that he feared that in countries where Christianity was inch-deep, anti-Semitism – like in Ukraine, like in Russia – was very high. And as we talked about it, I said, yes, but in the countries and in communities where the faith is deep, where the theological understanding from Genesis and at least for Christians all the way through the Book of Revelation was deeper, you don’t see this anti-Semitism because people understand – young people, all people – when they’re deeper in the Bible, they have a deeper love of God’s plan and purpose for Jewish people and for the State of Israel.
And this is one of the things that can seem odd if young people say, “I’m a Christian,” and then you ask them, “Well, do you love Israel?” “Not really.” That is already an indicator that they don’t understand the biblical story. Now, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have compassion for Palestinians. Right? And one of the things I’m trying to do in my travels to the Gulf States and the Arabs here in Israel is we need to show that you can be pro-Israel and loving and compassionate towards Palestinians and, broader, towards Arabs. The Evangelical leadership, pro-Zionist leadership, that seems only interested in Israel, they’re going to lose young people – not just on theology, but on a basic sense of fairness. “Hey, why don’t you show compassion for the Palestinian people and for Arabs more broadly?”
BEN-DAVID: So maybe those leaders are there also taking Evangelicals or younger Evangelicals for granted.
ROSENBERG: And they are. And young people absorb theology and information very differently than older generations. So, what might be a teaching style or even a media approach that worked with the parents and grandparents, it’s clearly not working as well with young people. But we can change it, we can adapt it. And I’m sort of the middle. My young people, four boys in our family, two who served in the army. Yeah, they love Israel, but they’ve gone through their own questioning of why are we becoming Israeli citizens? Why are we making aliyah? And those are from people who do know the Bible.
But I also am very much in touch with the Evangelical leadership in America and elsewhere where they're not exactly – I don't want to be tone deaf because that's pejorative – but they’re not quite realizing that there’s a gap. It can be filled. Mostly it’s the Christians’ responsibility. But we should appoint an ambassador in the next government, specifically to the Christian community.
BEN-DAVID: Well, maybe this will have been a wake-up call for that. Joel Rosenberg, thank you for joining us On the Rundown.
The All Israel News Staff is a team of journalists in Israel.